"He was sad at that saying." What saying was he sad over? You will have to read this post to find out. I will admit to you that I also found myself sad at upon hearing what Jesus said and that compelled me to pray and ask God to recalibrate my heart and my affections.
This is a review of Thomas Manton’s work A Treatise Of Self-Denial with comments and study questions along the way. Feel free to study along and answer the questions or ask your own in the comments’ section below to enrich our learning. www.ChapelLibrary.org has this copyright notice. To go to the start of this series click here.
[7.3] In prosperous times
In prosperous times of the church there is much self-denial to be practised. I confess, self-denial is chiefly for times of suffering, for so it is in the text, “Let him deny himself, and take up his cross”; these two are coupled together, so that when a cross meets us in our way, which we cannot avoid without some risk to conscience, then we must deny ourselves. However, it is a duty that is always in season.
I shall show you wherein this self-denial is to be practised in prosperous times.
(1.) In charity
We must deny ourselves through charity in a constant use of our material resources to God’s glory. Charity is the constant vent of Christian affection, a holy emptying out of self in liberal and benevolent distributions. It is the only cure and preservative we can have against self-seeking, if done out of sincere aims. “Go sell all that thou hast,” Christ says to the young man, and “give to the poor, and come and follow me, taking up thy cross,” but he was sad at that saying (see Mar 10:17-22). There is something extraordinary in that test: “Go, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor.” This is the self-denial Christ calls for. Can we trust Him to adequately repay us in heaven?
How much to give is hard to define. The amount given must be enough to be worthy of the gospel, and that you may have joy, otherwise you may be as great a self-seeker as those that get goods by robbery, when you possess them by greed. A covetous self-seeker is not only he who takes away other men’s goods, but also he who stingily keeps his own, if he holds more than is appropriate. We are to go back some degrees in pomp and pleasure. Consider the example of Jesus Christ, how many degrees He went back: “Though he was rich, he became poor, that we might be rich” (see 2 Cor 8:9).
(2.) In obedience to the Word
Self-denial is to be practised in prosperous times by obedience to the strictest inward duties of the Word. Many duties go against the bent of a carnal heart: inward mortification, meditation, self-examination. There is no outward glory in these things, and they are painful and distasteful to flesh and blood. You must deny yourselves in order freely to practise holy duties. Cornelius said to Peter, “Here we are all before the Lord, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God” (see Act 10:33)—“We are contented to hear whatever God will be pleased to teach.” The ministers of the gospel are agents for heaven; they drive God’s bargain and covenant with the world. Now the Lord cannot endure any reservation or withdrawing the shoulder from any known duties. Howsoever contrary and distasteful they are to flesh and blood, you must practise them.
We are all afraid of sins against conscience, and certainly they will be very clamorous. Now, the world is mistaken about sins against light and conscience: we think that sins only of commission are sins against conscience, as when a man commits adultery or tells a lie against a check of conscience. But, oh, let me tell you, sins of omission may be sins against conscience too. Notice, the apostle does not say, “To him that knows it is evil, it is sin”; but rather, he that “knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (Jam 4:17). When you are convinced of any duty, and do not practise it, you are not come up to Christ’s rules. Sins of omission, as well as sins of commission, are sins against knowledge.
(3.) In the uprightness of our aims
In prosperous times, self-denial is to be practised in the uprightness of our aims, to see that we are not guided by aims that flow from self-love. A man has more need to fear his heart in prosperous times than in times of persecution, so that he is not motivated by wicked desires, the outward countenance of religion, or respect to his own interest. The end you are aiming for is that you will not be lovers of yourselves, with “a form of godliness” (2 Tim 3:1-5)—that you do not merely hold out a pretence of religion upon those undue motives. There are no greater enemies to Christ than those who profess Christ upon self-interest. The apostle speaks of some who preached Christ, whose god was their belly, and who minded earthly things; but their entire aim was to gain an abundance of wealth and pleasure (Phil 3:18-19). In reality, they oppose the virtue and power of His cross as much as those that openly call Him a seducer.
(4.) In mortifying earthly pleasures
In prosperous times you are to deny yourselves by mortifying sinful pleasures and carnal desires, howsoever dear they may be to the soul, though these lusts be as near and dear as the right hand and the right eye. In times of danger God takes away the fuel of our lusts, but in times of peace we are to take away the desires and lusts themselves— and indeed this is hardest. It is easier to quit life than to quit one lust for Christ; lusts are more rooted in our nature, and therefore are more difficult to overcome. Enduring of hardships is nothing to the overcoming of lusts. We are to crucify and deaden these desires to the world, howsoever sweet they are. Men think there can be no pleasure but in the accomplishment of their carnal desires. It is pleasant, no doubt, for a woman with child to have what she longs for [because she has especially strong desires when in that condition]; but yet it is more pleasant not to be troubled with those longings at all. When these lusts are gone, it will be exceeding pleasant and comfortable to the soul.
Your great work then is to take heed that you do not live as those that are debtors to the flesh (Rom 8:12). You owe no service to your carnal desires. We are bound to clothe and feed the body, that it may be an instrument to serve God, but no further. You are not debtors to it; you owe it nothing; and therefore, if those desires encroach upon you, you must renounce them. The conveniences of the present life serve only as ballast to a ship in the passage; we are bound for a city whose goods cannot be purchased for gold or silver. You cannot buy repentance, faith, pardon, or glory, with gold or silver!
(5.) In seeking to promote the common salvation
This public self-denial is required of you in seeking to promote the common salvation and public benefit of the saints, without any partial respect to your own interest and opinion. Nazianzen said that usually this is the fault of the children of God when they begin to grow well, that then they are wilful and divided, just as green timber that lies in the sunshine is apt to warp. So it is with us: when we enjoy the sunshine of prosperity, we are apt to divide and grow unruly. “Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification” (Rom 15:2). We are not to please ourselves, not to look to the gratification of our own opinions, not to be privately urging our own opinions to the tormenting of interests and the breach of Christian charity.
It is a most spiritual kind of self-denial to be ever ruled by respect to the general interests of religion more than by private affection to our own party. Look, as the elements leave their proper motion—the water will ascend, and the air descend, in order to conserve the universe, and that there may be no vacuum and emptiness in the world—so it is good not to be partial to our own private interest, and at least to forbear censures and exasperations and taking disagreements too far.
Questions & Notes
- Can you trust Christ to adequately repay you in heaven when you give up all and follow Him? ↑
- clamorous – loud; in this context, proclaimed forcefully when we are held accountable for all sin at the Last Judgment. ↑
- Remember that one of the ways in which we serve God is by glorifying Him for the things He has given us for our enjoyment (1Ti 6:17). The author’s words should not be taken as precluding lawful pleasure as part of an obedient life. ↑
- Mere opinion must be distinguished from the gospel, which must not be compromised (compare Gal 1:6-10 with Rom 14:1-15:7). ↑
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